Josh and I recently went out to dinner to celebrate our second wedding anniversary. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve been out since our daughter was born, so it was a real treat. Because I’d been feeling like we’d been in our own little worlds for a couple of weeks, I really wanted (and needed) to reconnect. This got me thinking about the great date we’d gone on right before becoming parents.
The date had been on Valentine’s Day, and while Josh isn’t a huge fan of the holiday, it had been a very sweet night. We’d gone to the restaurant where the sparks first flew four years ago, and we’d spent part of the dinner sharing things we’d written about what it meant to become parents. We’d been given this homework as part of a birthing class, and it had been enlightening to talk about how our relationship would change as our family grew.
So, when I recently came across a copy of our marriage vows, I thought it would be cool to talk about them over dinner. Shortly after our drinks and appetizers arrived, I pulled the carefully folded piece of paper from my purse and slid it across the table.
“Remember when we did the homework right before Linnie was born?” I asked. “I thought we could do something similar for our anniversary.”
He laughed nervously and unfolded the paper.
“How do you think we’re doing?” I asked. “On our vows?”
We’d been quite intentional about our vows, which we’d written.
“Okay,” he said. “Good.”
“Is there anything we should work on?” I asked. “I mean, there’s always something that could be better, right? What should we work on this year?”
It suddenly occurred to me that most people are probably less comfortable with the idea of relationship homework than I am. Josh, not surprisingly, included.
Josh responded by saying, “Why do you always need to have a goal?” Like “goal” is a four-letter word. I will confess—I am ridiculously goal-oriented, and that can really bite me in the ass sometimes. But, among my top goals in life is to be married to Josh when I’m a little old grandma. Great-grandma, even. And I don’t just mean married. I mean happily married. Not a bad goal, right?
Guess what? My attempt at relationship homework turned out better than I could have planned. We didn’t talk about our vows. Our conversation was much more organic and much more amusing. We did talk about why I always need to have a goal and how that affects Josh. We talked about our differences without being critical. He thinks, for example, that I’m too emotional about financial issues. I own that, and it’s okay with me that he doesn’t really “get” it. I think he can be way too unemotional, and he owns that, too.
We laughed, we philosophized, we ate dessert. We walked out into the late summer evening hand-in-hand, shooting each other flirtatious smiles, and I thought to myself, “I love this man.” He challenges the hell out of me and this isn’t always easy, but I love him.
Aside from premarital counseling and good old fashioned shit-we-better-fix-this marriage counseling, do we ever take stock of our relationships or even—gasp—do relationship homework? When life is just fine, when things seem okay, do we stop to consider whether we’re really happy, or for that matter, whether our own partners are?
When my ex and I first started marriage counseling, the therapist gave us some homework that was meant to make us slow down and appreciate each other. We were supposed to spend ten minutes per day doing nothing but holding each other. No talking. No kissing. No fighting. Just holding. Well, let me tell you, we were beyond being able to perform this homework. We tried it once, and it was agonizing.
In some ways, the simple act of holding someone, quite intentionally, in silence, is more intimate than having sex. And so is talking about your fears, your challenges, and the things that you don’t share often enough—the things that you adore about each other and how much you mean to each other. Emotional intimacy is wonderful, but it’s far from simple. It’s hard to find and easy to lose. Dear readers, if you want it, imagine it. If you have it, make every effort to keep it.
I want to know:
Whether or not you’re in a relationship now, what do you think about the idea of relationship homework? Is it too contrived? Healthy? Hard but important? A complete waste of time? Weigh in!